A Refreshing Perspective
I was really happy to have one of those experiences of clarification today. I got a call earlier from one of the church's good servants, a friend in Southern Illinois keeping an eye on l'affaire Braxton. And some exceptionally smart and pastoral points were brought up.
In the name of balance, given all the apoplectic coverage out there (to which I have, admittedly, contributed), these nuances belong in our dialogue:
First, it's a very Roman MO to do business everywhere but the office. It's a very human thing, too -- when people are relaxed, they're ostensibly more open. I'm told the residence of the bishops of Belleville wasn't so much a center of diocesan life in decades past, but Braxton is aiming to change that. Apparently, and I've heard this before, his meetings, dinners, etc. would bring upwards of 2,000 people to his house every year in Lake Charles. And he's aiming to make his residence in Illinois the same kind of environment for dialogue and listening so his ministry can be as well-briefed as possible. Smart, no? We could even call it "transparent."
Second, while admirable for their conviction, it seems the priests of Belleville who signed onto the letter protesting the lack of local consultation in the process are aiming for an unrealistic and, candidly, impolitic end: the reversal of Braxton's appointment. While a critique of the handling of the process will serve the church well down the line, coming for the bishop's scalp before he even takes the chair shows a lack of cooperation from those who are supposed to be the first co-workers of the episcopal order, and it also politicizes good governance much more than it should be.
In a democracy, educated participation is key. But even though the church is not a democracy, the impetus, the necessity of understanding, respecting and working effectively in its culture and processes is ever more pressing and imperative. It is how respect is won, and how clout where it matters is eventually attained. If it hasn't already done so, the reaction in Belleville could well end up being a black mark against the priests and shake out in Braxton's favor, earning him sympathy in Rome which wasn't there before.
Third, given the recent history of the Belleville diocese (crippling scandal and two bishops moved upward), could the house redo be seen as a sign of commitment to the diocese? If so, that's very promising. Could it be Braxton saying, "I want to die here. I want to be here"? (His return to the region has already prompted much joy from St. Louis' cultural community....)
The rise and ambition of the bishop-climber is something many of us in larger metropolitan sees don't really have to deal with -- jumpy auxiliaries aside. For a small diocese, a bishop already looking to the next thing is often a demoralizing reality of church life. In that context, a solid guy committed to sticking around is a keeper.
So the points are out there. Let's get talkin'.